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Old World Days II; London by Dark

Blog Post 15. (31/10/2019-2/11/2019) - London by Night

After a sober day of politics and journalism, I needed to relax. I took some casual interviews with the Brexit protesters still lingering outside the houses of Parliament. I took a few pictures too grainy for anything but memoirs, asked some questions and bantered with the protesters a little. I asked them why they were out there and they listed their grievances with Parliament, the funds that go to the EU and the 2015-2016 refugee fiasco. The crowd was in a good mood and so was I.

The Red Lion, courtesy of the website. Missing the crowds but full of character.

With a bounce in my step, I crossed the road to the famous pub Mr. Braine had invited me to earlier that day - ‘The Red Lion’. I worked my way in through the crowds. The pub was hot, bright and beautiful, with black liquored walls, quaint lantern lighting and oaken everything. I took my time in ordering a drink but made one crucial mistake- I bought Cornish cider, a very popular item. I was leaning against the bar and sipping at the cider when someone bumped into me.

‘Oy you! You stole my drink. You looking for a fight?’ Or something like that. I turned to see a very red-faced, bald man with a strong East London accent giving me a rough look. “I- what?” I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about and had no plans to get in a brawl with a local tough.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do. Hand it over.”

“I bought this drink myself, just ask the barman.”

He still wasn’t buying it. But luckily, a third party stepped in.

“Hai Tom” (or Harry, or Archie, a name like that), “you old fool, stop bothering ‘im. Your drink is on your left.”

Apparently, Cornish Cider was a local favorite and ‘Tom’ had misplaced his. Unfortunately his fell on my drink before his own. Looking thoroughly embarrassed and a little more blushed, Tom apologized and turned back to his friends who had a laugh at his expense.

I made my way out of the crowds and down Whitehall.

I felt a mixture of awe and regret walking by monuments and buildings whose names I could not recall at the time. On one hand, I was finally here walking down one of the most famous roads in Britain and on the other I felt completely unprepared for the occasion. Had I only anticipated I would be walking down this road, I could have remembered that that street over there was the opening to Downing Street (where the Prime Minister lives) or that that pillar commemorating "the glorious dead" was the famous Cenotaph…

The Old Shades bar

I found my way to a pub with a name I myself might conceivably come up with… “The Old Shades”. This bar was far less busy and I had no problem finding a barstool against one of the far walls, with Whitehall visible through the thick-panes on my right. I asked a barmaid where I could order something and she directed me to the bar, naturally. The pub was a cavernous space with fine paneling, dimmish lighting and wooden pillaring. Soon, I was back at my seat with transcribing my old ‘Oxford Book of German Verse’ into my book, annotating a page for every sip. I was so enjoying myself that I lost track of time and found myself standing on the other side of two hours by the time I had finished my dinner. The cuisine was very passable- shepherd’s pie, potatoes and a gin and tonic, all local favorites (or so the barman told me). But the atmosphere? The place felt like its name, so old and so storied, supernaturally quaint by faint lamplight. I breathed the pub in for a few moments, packed up my books and left.

I made my way out and I don’t remember half of the details. There were just landmarks slowly marching by. Trafalgar and St. Paul’s on my left, Scotland yard and the Ministry of Magic (the film spot) on my right, I felt like I was standing still while it passed me by. A strong sense of wonder kept with me as I mounted the Millennium Bridge. All that I could see was beautiful and steeped in sepia light, two thousand years of history within sight and much more just beyond that. It was enough to be there. About midway over the Thames, something caught my attention.

The Millennium Bridge at night, courtesy of Personallyglo

He was playing a medley of 2000’s pop and reggaeton on an electric violin. Normally, I might question the taste of that combination but that night it was beautiful. I stood there as pedestrians passed us by, listening to the music and tapping my feet to the passionate, quickening rhythm of the violin. After a few songs, I approached the violinist and thanked him for his wonderful music. He replied, saying he had noticed my foot-tapping and guessed from my face that I was an artist. Hmm, well the goatee does look the part of a starving artist. The violinist’s name was Justin and he was a Romanian by birth, a resident of London for two years at the time. But a idea floated to the top of my mind, a suggestion by an old friend who had I surprised with my breakdancing a few years back. That friend said that I might one day try street performance, so I made a rather simple suggestion to Justin. He agreed.

It was easy to find the rhythm of the songs I already knew, “Havana” and “Shatter Me” went exceedingly smoothly, a cumbian rush blended with a hot-footed jumpstyle and a dash of ballroom to smooth over the transitions. Justin had a unique set with his electric violin and modern music so I made my styles to match. Between the twirls, side-steps, rolls and slides I could see our work attracting more and more passersby. I stepped up the rhythm and went up to two-steps per beat on the slower songs. Dancing there over the Thames to that warm-blooded beat felt like the culmination of many years of dancing, the ‘desnudo’ of a legendary day. That was the first time I had ever performed for a live crowd and it felt wonderful. With a bow to applause and a handshake with Justin, I walked over the bridge and disappeared into the fluorescence of the Waterloo underground.

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